Вдовин Владимир Владимирович: другие произведения.

Jack London and the socialist idea

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  • Аннотация:
    Доклад на 12 симпозиуме Общества Джека Лондона, Беркли, Калифорния. 30.10 - 1.11.14. Английский язык

   Jack London and the socialist idea
   Ladies and gentlemen!
   It's a great honor for me, a man from Russia, to speak on Jack London's home land. During my last visit here in 2010 I had an interesting dialogue on quay Embarkadero. I decided to ask the driver of a tour bus the way to London - square. Being shy of my poor English and bad pronunciation I said:
   - Excuse me, where is ...
   No sooner had I finished the phrase as the driver suggested:
   - Let's talk in Russian ...
   Our conversation continued. The driver appeared to be my former compatriot. I lived in Donetsk, and he was from Taganrog. I told him that I am interested in Jack London books and came to SF with the only purpose to take part in symposium on his creative work. To my surprise I heard a lot of criticism about J.London. The main argument was London's socialist engagement, the people like him start revolutions. As a result my companion along with many other people had to flee from his native country.
   33 years ago I could not even imagine that the day would come that I would have a chance to talk about huge influence of Jack London on my world outlook. What was then? It was a year of 1981 - acme of "the advanced socialism era". On L.I.Brezhnev's birthday, December 19, I finished my work "Once again about Origin of Family, Private Property and the State!"
   Quite naturally, I was eager to share my ideas with others. But the instinct of self-preservation did not allow me to show my conclusions to somebody in the days of the "Iron Curtain". In various books I came across the thoughts similar to mine. But more often I referred to Jack London as my ally! It is an interesting paradox - Jack London was born and raised in a capitalist system, but theoretically had come to ideas of Socialism. My case was quite the opposite. Born and raised in a Socialist country and convinced in inevitable triumph of Communism, I long before "Perestroika" arrived at the theoretical conclusion, that Socialism is never possible.
   At the turn of 20th century Jack London was also trying to understand, why the world is so imperfect and what should be done to improve it for the better. He writes: "But, just as I had been an individualist without knowing it, I was now a Socialist without knowing it, withal, an unscientific one". It happened so, that London became a Socialist though in the United States were also other ideologies denying private property, like Hutterites. "I was already It, whatever It was, and by aid of the books I discovered that It was a Socialist".
   Besides Socialism as a way of elimination of social injustice the young London was fascinated by Spencer's Evolutionary Theory which has shown the ways of evolving organic life.
   In the beginning of the 20th century London was touring a lot with lectures on Socialism. In 1905 a collection of essays "War of Classes" came out. In those essays London developed his views on Socialism. His essays "Preface" and "How I Became a Socialist" were included in most editions of Jack London in Soviet Union and Russia. The title of "How I Became a Socialist" apparently does not leave any doubts about political views of London. But was it really so?
   Vil Bykov wrote: "Under Socialism the proletariat who takes all the power will eliminate all advantages for the strong, it means that struggle between the strong and the weak for food and shelter will come to its end. But a question still remains: what will stimulate Man to self-perfection when the law of natural selection stops working (essay "Wanted: a New Law of Development", 1901). However, despite of this question with no answer, the writer was convinced of huge advantages of the new system".
   From these lines I first learned about the essay "Wanted: a New Law of Development" and that in socialist views of London there was an open question, sort of "a blank page".
   I have obtained the text in English, read it and made a translation. Yes, London understands that it is something wrong in the socialist idea: on the one hand: "There shall no longer be a life-and-death struggle for food and shelter. The old heartless law of development shall be annulled", but on the other hand: "What will be the nature of this new and most necessary law of development? Can the common man, or the uncommon men who are allied with him, devise such a law? Or have they already devised one? And if so, what is it?"
   I want to remind you that London raised the question yet in 1901. But, having skipped "the difficult question" he continued preaching socialism, remaining at the same time a convinced supporter of evolution.
   London raised the question, but had no time to look for the answer. At the turn of 20th century his life was a whirlpool of events: Klondike, his first love, the beginning of literary rise, marriage to Elizabeth Maddern, birth of his daughters, divorce, huge literary work and public activity. So many events can be enough for not only one life. The problem of the new law of social development was postponed. But it wasn't forgotten.
   The abiding memory of my childhood was the first man in space. On April 12, 1961 my friends and I, then 8 years of age, were sailing paper boats on the creek. It was a marvelous spring sunny day. Suddenly someone came up shouting: "Gagarin is in space!" I remember the overall glee. You bet! The first man in space. Then I knew little about importance of this event for science and technological progress. I did not understand that cosmic exploration is a logical step in the development of mankind. I remember well, that all newspapers, radio, TV said that the first man in space was a Soviet pilot, a communist. Nobody knew the name of the chief designer of a spacecraft, but everybody were sure that only communists are able to fly to space. In the fall of the same year at the 22 Congress of CPSU was established the program of Communism development.
My cheerful outlook was in captivity of socialist morals but I didn't even suspect it. I believed that our country and our society was the best in the world. I was truly surprised, that in my elementary school would appear D students and hooligans. All the criminals and non-compliant citizens in the country were definitely a result of obnoxious influence of the West. I sincerely welcomed the idea of the "Iron Curtain" to prevent invasion of the alien ideology. I believed that it was little left to be done: education for everyone and all people will understand, all will become alike and happy. In my childhood I would have more likely believed that communists had forced the Earth to rotate in reverse direction, than that the socialist idea was wrong!
   My acquaintance with Jack London started with the novel "White Fang". I first listened to it on the radio. Later on I read much of London by myself. I had a book by Jack London at home and read it in one breath, but for some reason only from the second chapter. It was "Hearts of Three". At first as many other young men I was attracted by romantic flavor of J.London books. Adventures, romanticism of "the White Silence" and "the Southern Seas", strong, desperate people and their acts.
   But then my adult, independent life began: work in the garage, the army service, university years, work at the factory, postgraduate studies. I still believed in "the better tomorrow", but reality taught me yet new lessons which gradually undermined my belief in the socialist idea.
   Why did the change of my outlook become possible? Because the reality of "advanced Socialism" didn't meet "theoretical" expectations of the Soviet people. But if Jack London of my age was attracted by socialist ideas, seeds of which have fallen into a fertile soil of his desire to change the world, the reality in which I happened to live in my country, showed its irrelevance to the ideal Socialism. It became obvious to me, that all those "defects" were not brought from the outside, but they come from the inside of Man's nature.
   I set off to do a research for the truth. I studied works by Karl Marks, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin. The more deeply I studied the classical works of Marxism-Leninism, the better I realized inconsistency of the theory. Something very important, very basic was missing and it could ruin the entire theory. But I found this missing part of Marx logic in Jack London works. For me searching the truth in the socialist idea became the meaning of my life.
   In April 1907 Jack London set sail on the yacht "Snark" to Hawaii and Australia. It took a long time. And only there, aboard of "Snark", side by side with his beloved and quite a few crew treated him as god, London was torn off the daily problems and had an opportunity to concentrate and think over his life, to better understand himself. At that moment he wrote his autobiographical novel "Martin Eden".
   I cannot count how many times I reread this book. Each time I discovered something new in it. First I admired the persistence Martin achieved his goal with. Then - the romance - the relationship between man and woman. Once I was long thinking about the turning-point when and why London decided to become the writer. And, at last, I discovered the duality of London's philosophy. Let me tell the truth: first I used to scan the text and thought, that "real guys" and "socialists" are the same people. Chapter 36 is about "the real dirt" who embraced dialectics. The chapter ends with the words: "I still think Spencer is unassailable..." Chapter 38 begins with the words: "Come on, let's go down to the local. ..."What do I want with socialism?" Martin demanded." In a dispute Martin said: "It is easy for you to talk of annulling the law of development, but where is the new law of development that will maintain your strength? Formulate it. Is it already formulated? Then state it." Stop! But in fact I have already come across this thought! The same recurrence of the question put in the essay "Wanted: A New Law of Development"! The question raised by J.London at the beginning of his literary career, kept exciting him already at the top of his literary success.
   Not only "The Cruise of the Snark" had come to the end but the decade of magic of socialist ideas as well. In his later works Jack London as though apologized for his misapprehension. Humanly we can understand the writer: on the one hand the socialist idea contributed to his popularity and growth of his books circulation. But, on the other, J.London did understand that no driving force can be seen in the socialist idea able to develop the society after a "socialist revolution".
   It is 100 years by now as my country lives under influence of a socialist idea. The idea that proclaimed happiness of each person as its mission turned out to be a disaster with enormous human casualties and total economic crash. And still up to now there is no official theory that could have explained collapse of the socialist system. Many authors make the attempts to treat the course of history at their own discretion.
   Marx and Engels were convinced, that "the history of all till now existing societies was a history of struggle of classes". Thomas Carlyle believed, that "History of the world is a biography of great people". You may even prove that "the history of mankind is a history of pickling cucumbers". Various sociological theories explain the reality on the speculative basis. Many are ready even to recognize an extraterrestrial origin of intelligence. People overlook the fact that the laws do already exist. They should not be reinvented. They should be discovered and formulated.
   Only social Darwinism is focused on biological nature of the man and is based on the criteria that can be named axioms of alive organism existence. It is so obvious, that goes without saying and does not require any additional proofs. The man, like any animal, needs food, water, shelter. To continue his family line the man needs to reproduce and die. It's a normal law of nature.
   Only social Darwinism can honestly say that man is the animal, and the same laws of nature that have led homo to the stage of sapience define the nature of modern social relations as well.
   The ideas of Carlyle, Spencer, Nietzsche, Freud which passionate supporter Jack London was, have hardly turned two centuries. My strong belief is that the world runs under these laws.
   In his young years J.London had a great interest in Socialism. It was not more than a fascination of youth. I'd call it 'childish disease of justice'. Life changed his views from the Marx 'struggle of classes' to the conclusion that 'The history of civilization is a history of wandering, sword in hand, in search of food'. ('The Human Drift')
   The best developed society is a society based on democratic principles. They are: a limited presidential term and voting by secret ballot. These principles show the greatness of reason, a celebration of thought, pride of consciousness - wow! Homo sapience has left the "animal's existence conditions"! But why? Why should we limit by legislation the presidential term and mask our choice? Why, why, why?.. Just because the democratic principles are the quintessence of biological laws of evolution.
   The beginning of 20th century can be named the acme of human reason. Many great men lived and created at this time: Kipling, Leo Tolstoy, Bernard Show, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford and Igor Sikorsky, Thomas Edison, Igor Stravinsky, Sergey Rachmaninov. And there are hundreds more names. Development of civilization is well on the way. And all this intellectual power and moral greatness could not stop World wars.
   For me it is completely clear, that there is no way to think of society development proceeding from the growing understanding of eternal truth and justice. I believe that development of the society is the dialectics of Spencer - the founder of social Darwinism.
   Not the amateurish, vulgar social Darwinism that is usually blamed in all troubles of mankind. But the social Darwinism that explains why the man became the tsar of Nature, what are the incentive forces of technical progress. The social Darwinism that understands, that struggle for life of the individual here and now is not a goal in itself, and explains what man should live for, despite of all his temporal existence. Why man should live today, tomorrow, and through billion years after. Why man should live and survive, even when the Sun inevitably goes out and our descendants move to another Galaxy!
   I may be wrong. But then I want to address to my opponents Jack London's question:
   " It is easy for you to talk of annulling the law of development, but where is the new law of development that will maintain your strength? Formulate it. Is it already formulated?
   Then state it."

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